Britain needs more benches, public toilets and street lighting to encourage lonely people to start mixing socially again once the lockdown ends, MPs and peers say.
Action is needed to tackle a “loneliness emergency” that the Covid pandemic has exacerbated by denying people contact with family and friends, the parliamentarians say.
The call comes as new polling by the British Red Cross shows that more than a third (35%) of Britons feel less connected to their community than they did before Covid-19 struck and 39% do not think their feelings of loneliness will go away once the restrictions on everyday life lift.
Almost a third (32%) are worried that they may not be able to connect with people in the same way they did before the pandemic, according to a representative poll of 2,000 UK adults by Opinium.
The cross-party all-party parliamentary group on loneliness wants Boris Johnson and his government to ensure that the country has a “connected recovery”. They also want ministers to do more to close the digital divide, plan new housing developments so that residents can spend time together and fund charities and voluntary organisations that help “the lonely and cut-off”.
Neil O’Brien, the Conservative MP who chairs the group, said that during the past year “no matter where you live, neighbours and other quality connections – including those on the internet – have mattered”.
He said: “This means more public toilets, better street lighting, ramps and quiet safe spaces, so that everyone from all ages and all backgrounds has the facilities they need in order to make valuable friendships in their area.”
Zoë Abrams, the British Red Cross’s executive director of communications and advocacy, said tackling loneliness should be a priority because during the pandemic many people had faced “the life transitions that we know can lead to loneliness, such as poor physical and mental health, losing a job or losing a loved one”.
She said: “We know from our 150 years of responding to emergencies that people who are more connected socially are better able to cope with, and recover from, crises.
“A lack of a good bus service, free public toilets, parks and gardens, baby-changing facilities or accessibility adaptations can put up barriers that prevent people from connecting with others in person.”
A government spokesperson said: “The impacts of Covid-19 are being felt across the world, but the UK government is leading the way in tackling the issue of loneliness.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic we have invested over £31.5m in organisations supporting people who experience loneliness and a further £44m to organisations supporting people with their mental health.
“We recognise that the easing of lockdown restrictions will not mean the end of loneliness for many people, which is why this will remain a priority for the government.”